Barry said Hekemian has scaled back the original $180 million project significantly in the face of public criticism, scrapping plans for a 22-story apartment building, a hotel and an underground parking garage. Plans now call for a seven-story and a five-story building, plus several dozen townhouse-style apartments that would front Elm Avenue and 38th Street at the southern boundary of the mall.
Plans also call for closing the interior of the mall, turning its existing stores outward to face a plaza, and replacing the departed Giant supermarket with a boutique grocer.
The devil may yet be in the details, said City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who supports the project in principle, but shares the objections some constituents still have about the scale of it, including the height of the tallest buildings. Clarke also was scheduled to meet with residents of Elm and 38th on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at the Rotunda, to discuss options for mitigating potential parking problems when the apartments fronting those streets are built.
Clarke said she has notified all the people on her Rotunda Neighbors list about the Planning Commission meeting and has forwarded to the commission minutes of all the meetings between Hekemian and area residents about the project, as well as the residents' stated concerns and Hekemian's responses and follow-up comments.
Clarke has opposed closing the interior of he mall and has supported landscaping and design modifications at Elm and 38th. She also thinks the scale of the project is still too large, and fought to restrict the hours of operation of a loading dock that faces Elm, because some residents were concerned about "having a loading dock staring them in the face."
Restricting the hours "seemed to satisfy most people," she said.
Clarke said she planned to attend the Planning Commission hearing, but doesn't want to be a fly in the ointment regarding a project she expects the commission to approve. At this point, any last-minute tweaking is "design-oriented" and focused on the southern perimeter of the project, she said.
But Clarke said she doesn't want to be seen as stirring up controversy as the project nears final approval.
"I'm not going to try to crank something up," she said. "There are some issues that are still unresolved. Yes, I think (the commission will) approve the project as a whole, absolutely. But just like the City Council, you can vote with amendments."
Genny Dill, whose Elm Avenue row house faces the back parking lot of the Rotunda, is leading the charge to mitigate parking problems. Hekemian officials have agreed to include one parking space per unit in the rents of the apartments at Elm and 38th, but residents don't trust future tenants to use the spaces, saying it may be too tempting to park on the street.
A community meeting was scheduled for Wednesday at the Rotunda to discuss parking mitigation options, and one of the options that was expected to be presented was to ask the city to create a Residential Parking Permit area to limit how long people can park on the street. Another option is to ask the city to build a public parking garage in the area, Dill said.
Dill wasn't planning to go to the Planning Commission hearing and said she and many other residents are tired of all the debate over a project they expect to win final approval Thursday.
"I think it's probably over but the shouting," said Dill, secretary to the Hampden Community Council and a member of Hekemian's advisory task force. "We just want to get it done."